DEL's Key Argument on Chinese Motives in Latin America
"The Chinese, to grow their economy, require more natural resources than China has domestically. Securing metals and especially oil is vital to the long-term growth and modernization of the Chinese economy. China is seeking to obtain these supplies by increasing its good will with Latin American governments that have these resources, while minimizing Taiwan. Long-term Chinese goals will be to increase military contacts with these same nations to ultimately secure their economic interests."
Chester's Question 1:
"First, it seems that there is a danger in how one assigns agency and action to various state actors when considering moves like these. For example, if a US-based multi-national or international firm decides to move into a new market abroad, what role does the US government, the state itself, have in that move?...
Basically, I sometimes wonder about using the terms "China" and "the US" to describe actions taken by many different actors, some state-centered, some not, all varying in their roles, relationships to each other, and objectives. Don't get me wrong. I use the same constructs myself in describing international relations all the time. I have no doubt, as Bill states, that the Chinese state, and the US state, want to increase their influence in Latin America vis a vis each other. But I don't want the "transnational" or "subnational" or "intranational" aspects to be looked over. "
Chester's question brought back a politics class that I imagine both of us sat through in our political education in college. I remember reading Kenneth Waltz's "Man, the State and War" [see DEL post on Kenneth Waltz for more]. What was captivating about the book was Waltz's breaking down of viewing international relations from three different paradigms as the principal actor:
- The Individual. An individual controls the destiny of a nation or series of international events. Think of Alexander the Great single-handedly influencing the known world of his day, uniting Greece and conquering ancient Persia.
- The State. Regardless of the leader of the nation, the state is the highest rational actor in international relations. Europe during the 19th century was composed of individual states that, regardless of their heads of state, would have conducted foreign policy in remarkably similar ways based on the national character and geography of their empires. Another argument for this analysis is that regardless of who wins the US Presidency, American foreign policy is rather consistent.
- The System. The larger order of international relations, not the state or individual, is the best paradigm for viewing how a group of nations inter-relate. The Cold War system was largely predictable because of the competing ideologies and the different nations aligned in the struggle between capitalism and communism with the third world as the battleground for the proxy wars of the major powers.
Of course all three levels of analysis can be used to view international relations, including the motives of the Chinese moving in Latin America. Using the system above, here are three explanations:
- Hutchinson Port Holdings, a Hong Kong based firm, is interested in expanding its core line of business, shipping ports and cargo passage in an important region of the world, Panama. The company has a history, going back to 1866, of being involved in ports and shipping. While a Chinese company, it is acting as an independent actor on the world stage. (It is one of several Chinese companies bidding on the location in Panama.)
- China, as a state actor, is interested in securing economic and diplomatic benefit in Latin America. In order to do so, it has created a political climate that encourages its largely state-owned companies to expand internationally. This is aided by China's massive trade surplus with the United States.
- Due to the dynamics of Asia politics and international relations in general, the capitalist system will promote Chinese involvement in Latin America. Globalization also creates the dependency of Latin America on Chinese investment, especially as US investment atrophies in the region.
There are elements of truth to all three paradigms above. However, I would differ with Chester in his view of the Chinese as being more prone to the Individual actor as opposed to the state actor as the principal force in the equation. Unlike the United States, the vast majority of large Chinese companies (ie., CNOOC) are state-owned or military-run enterprises that are heavily subsidized by the state. I find using the second paradigm, state actor, as more convincing for analyzing China than US foreign relations.
Chester's Question 2 (actually a point):
" Second point: One way that I recently discovered of thinking about the competing influences of the US and China all over the world is through the game of Go (via wikipedia). Whereas the US-USSR relationship might have best been analogized as a game of strategic chess, the US-China relationship seems much more similar to Go. Each side is carefully setting up relationships in places all over the globe. For every Latin American nation that China influences, Bush or Rumsfeld visit a Mongolia or a Kyrghizstan. Each state, US or China, has a web of interacting speres of influence, characterized in particular by economic relationships, military relationships, diplomatic relationships, the flows of trade among citizens any third-party state (to use a transnational metric), cultural infuence (to use another) and each of these influences could be similar to a single piece on the Go board. Over time, the influences of one side combine locally in one place to overcome the influences of the other side. Over even longer periods of time, the influences of each side become concentrated in certain areas, or, if one side doesn't carefully guard its influences by interlocking them carefuly with complementary ones, it will find itself losing in an absolute sense. In this way, whereas chess is about head-to-head military competition, Go is much more subltle. I think it applies to US-China competiton. The only thing not accounted for by this analogy is the possibility of cooperation between the two states in common goals. Go does not allow for this in its traditional rules. Neverthelss, I find it useful."
Chester's second point really drills down to the question of: "Is US-Sino relations a zero-sum game?" Most board games are zero-sum games, where there is always a winner and a loser. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States from 1947-1991 is a quintessential example of foreign policy being played out with the view that if one nation is advancing its cause, the other is declining. In economics, "Comparative Advantage" is a proven mathematical model that demonstrates how two nations can both be better off from exchanging goods together. Many online community games work on similar principles. Comparative advantage, while not game theory, does point to a way in which nations can interact that is not a zero-sum outcome. As an example, the US Marshall Plan is an example where multiple nations were better off by the actions of one nation. Much like comparative advantage, the nations that were a part of the Marshall Plan, including the US, were more prosperous and secure as a result.
Conclusion - Is US-Sino Relations a Zero-Sum Game?
If China emerges as a democratic country over the next 10 to 20 years, I believe US-Sino relations will be characterized as one similar to comparative advantage. However, if China continues to use nationalism to keep its population backing its current authoritative regime by focusing abroad (to nations such as Japan and the United States), I think it is more likely that US-Sino relations will be reminiscent of US-Soviet relations during the Cold War: a zero-sum game.